Pros and cons of potential legalization of marijuana in Washington state

CLARKSTON, WA - Washington voters will decide if they want to legalize marijuana, when they head to the polls next week.

"I'm convinced it's a gateway drug," said Clarkston Police D.A.R.E. Officer John Morbeck.

If Washington voters decide to vote 'yes' for Initiative-502 next week, it'll no longer be a crime for adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. It's a convoluted issue that has many voters torn. Campaign Director Alison Holcomb of New Approach Washington, a group supporting the initiative, says the Prohibition Act of the 1920's is a common parallel that's been used for the legalization of marijuana.

"So what we're seeing is essentially a parallel to what happened with alcohol prohibition," said Holcomb. "We have a huge demand for this product that we have turned into a black market commodity and that's actually introducing more violence and less control into our communities."

Clarkston Police Department D.A.R.E. Officer John Morbeck opposes I-502 and believes that lifting restrictions will be harmful to society.

"Prohibition people talk about how bad that was, what a failure it was, but if you look at the actual usage of alcohol at that time, it was at an all time low," said Morbeck.

Another argument that's used against the proliferation of marijuana is how it leads people to use harder drugs like Heroin, Methamphetamine and Cocaine because they become de-sensitized to illegal activity.

"I had a judge speak at one of my D.A.R.E. graduations and he talked about the hundreds of cases that go through his court and out of all those cases maybe two people didn't start by smoking marijuana," said Morbeck.

"By separating marijuana from those harder drugs and bringing it under control in regulation we can actually create a wall and that would be a better strategy for preventing the harms that come along with people using those harder substances," said Holcomb.

If the initiative is passed, Holcomb says stores modeled after old Washington liquor stores will be opened. Simple signage, distance from schools and one-way windows are a few of the restrictions these stores will face. But even if it passes, it'll still be illegal under the laws of the federal government.

"Federal people can step in and arrest anybody at any time for possession of marijuana," said Morbeck.

"What's important is to keep in mind where federal law enforcement agents are deployed," said Holcomb. "They're really focused on large, multinational criminal organizations as a prioritization issue."

Holcomb says billions of dollars are funneled every year to violent criminal organizations that are responsible for over 55,000 men, women and children killed in Mexico due to drug-related activity.

A couple proponents who've endorsed the issue include King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, and former U.S. Attorney John McKay. Some opponents include the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and Head of the Snohomish County Drug Task Force Pat Slack.